B2B: Getting Search Engine Marketing in Sync

When a searcher types a word into Google or Yahoo, organic and paid results populate the return screen. Because competition for top rankings in search results is steadily increasing, business-to-business marketers are challenged to develop ever more sophisticated search strategies.

FedEx, for instance, is comprised of a worldwide network of operating companies: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, FedEx Kinkos, FedEx Custom Critical and FedEx Trade Networks. Each company operates independently under the brand umbrella.

“FedEx has taken the same approach to brand and category search words,” says Steve Pacheco, director of FedEx advertising. All paid search activities are consolidated with FedEx Advertising. However, under that umbrella, Pacheco’s team constructs separate lists of search terms used by each of the operating companies and adds words as needed. Each business unit has its own set of search terms related to its function within the marketplace.

Organic Optimization

To maximize the number of searchers drawn to any operating company, FedEx Advertising practices search engine optimization techniques. Among the most basic of the related tactics, according to Mike Moran and Bill Hunt, authors of Search Engine Marketing Inc., is to get companies’ pages in the search indices.

The lists of search words generated by FedEx business units, for example, can be periodically reviewed, and the pages meant to correspond with particular keywords can be rewritten so that the content matches the terms searchers are actually using.

Pacheco’s responsibility doesn’t end with the operating companies. “We then use Web site analytics to pull the top 100 referring words from the various search engines currently driving traffic to Fedex.com,” he tells the E-Commerce Times. “These words” — such as ‘supply chain,’ ‘business services’ or ‘transportation’ — “typically receive higher click rates in paid search than our more [brand] awareness-oriented words.”

Portal-type landing pages eliminate overlap between operating company search marketing efforts and those targeting Fedex.com. On these landing pages, B2B customers view all FedEx offerings and choose the most relevant for their needs. “This helps streamline ownership of words,” Pacheco explains.

Paid Placement of Nonbranded Terms

“Top words coming to Fedex.com are always branded terms, but those are people who are looking for FedEx,” he continues. “Where our interests lie is in capturing nonbranded words, because those are people who are looking for a service but maybe not our company. This is really where the customer acquisition takes place — a person looking for services we offer [who] doesn’t have any brand affinity. … We want to be there for both our existing and potential customers.”

Moran and Hunt call this “primary demand.” Buyers are in the early stages of purchase consideration. They have identified a problem but not an express solution. “If you’re in a market that’s somewhat crowded with vendors, how do you stand out in all of that? How do you get the decision makers? How do you get an appointment to start a dialogue,” Laura Ramos, vice president at Forrester Research, asks rhetorically.

“Search marketing helps a lot in those areas. It puts your product in front of decision makers. It’s important to have visibility on [search] engines when people are looking to solve a problem and it’s not an easy thing for them to figure out. That’s why paid placement has skyrocketed,” she notes.

“In your search strategy, there should be some balance between paid and natural,” FedEx’s Pacheco says. “While you can have more control over the placement and message in paid, an investment in natural search optimization can have better long-term value.”

This strategy includes using targeted keywords on selected landing pages and sprinkling in common exact phrases that searchers use. Clicks occur more often when an exact search phrase is repeated in an engine return, researchers have found.

Branded vs. Nonbranded Terms

B2B buyers visit the Web before any other channel in investigating solutions to their challenges, Ramos tells the E-Commerce Times. “They have to narrow down their needs,” she says. They use search results as much for a quick education as for a salable product or service.

Because of this, she suggests that B2B marketers invest in optimizing nonbranded terms through both natural and paid search tactics. Those with few marketing dollars allocated to search marketing can look at more generic, less-used terms that may constitute the next big hit.

“In general, our plan is more nonbranded, since most commercial customers’ initial interest is in the type of vehicle they need — dump truck, police vehicle, etc. — rather than in Fleet and Commercial by name,” says Karen Cuff, marketing manager for GM fleet and commercial operations. Her division of General Motors aims to become a trusted source of information while it builds its search engine marketing capability and budget.

“For divisional branding, we can’t/don’t really compete with the divisions on branded vehicles since their budgets are significantly higher,” Cuff says. “However, we do use branded search for vehicles such as the Chevrolet Express and Kodiak, since they’re almost exclusively commercial.

“In the coming months, our media team will be working closely with the search engines to better understand the effectiveness of branded and nonbranded terms, among other elements,” she says.

“To succeed with search marketing, B2B firms must take a gradual approach toward mastering search marketing tactics — keyword advertising and organic rankings,” Ramos concludes.

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